CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 02: Running back Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans fights for extra yardage as he is hit by defensive lineman Phil Taylor #98 of the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
For the second consecutive season, the Cleveland Browns are getting heavy production out of their rookie class. The team hasn't gotten a lot of flashy production out of its first-year players, but half of general manager Tom Heckert's picks this year have started every game of the season.
None has played better than first-round pick Phil Taylor. Taken 21st overall, the defensive tackle has started all four games inside next to Ahtyba Rubin. Taylor is third on the team in total tackles with 20 to go along with a sack. If nothing else, Taylor has been symbol up front of what the Browns want to do on defense. He's been physical and aggressive, often occupying multiple blockers.
Second-round pick Jabaal Sheard has shown some strong glimpses of being an excellent selection at No. 37 overall. He showed against the Indianapolis Colts that he can pressure the quarterback. In that game, Sheard had a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Sheard was arguably the defense's best player that week. His fumble recovery helped the Browns hold a 24-12 lead in the fourth quarter. A five-yard tackle for loss stopped a drive, forcing a field goal attempt. That was the first game Sheard play on the left side after starting as a right defensive end. It's probably best for Sheard going forward that he's on the left since he won't have to play the opposing team's left tackle. The Browns are slowly working their other second-round pick Greg Little into the wide receiver rotation. He's been in 229 of the team's 299 offensive snaps on the season and his 13 receptions are third most among rookies. Little had his best game against the Tennessee Titans in Week 4 when he finished with six receptions for 57 yards. Most impressively was a 25-yard reception where the Browns actually used Little vertically. Most of Little's routes have been slants or shallow crossing patterns. The better Little plays, the less playing time third-year receiver Brian Robiskie will see.
Jordan Cameron, the team first of two fourth-round picks, hasn't seen the field yet this season. He's stuck behind Ben Watson, Evan Moore and Alex Smith on the tight end depth chart. The other fourth-round pick, fullback Owen Marecic, has started all four games this season. He's struggled at times running and catching the ball, but he's done a decent job as a lead blocker. The Browns have also used Marecic on special teams where the college linebacker has shown his tackling ability nicely. That's something former fullback Lawrence Vickers didn't want to do.
After a promising preseason where he looked to be a steal at cornerback, the Browns have rarely used fifth-round pick Buster Skrine. Skrine has only been in the game on nine defensive snaps this season, according to Pro Football Focus, so it's hard to gauge how well he's played.
Another rookie who has started all four games of the season is left guard Jason Pinkston. According to PFF, Pinkston hasn't allowed a sack this season, but he's still learning to play inside after starting at left tackle in college. Pinkston has had his struggles, but he's still starting ahead of veteran acquisition John Greco. Pinkston also benefits from playing in between Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, but his play has been good for a late-round selection.
Seventh-round pick Eric Hagg hasn't played this season. Of the Browns' undrafted players, only running back Armond Smith has seen action of note. He's been the team's third running back, carrying the ball three times for two yards.